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Brie College: The Making of Normandie Brie

The cheese is made by the Normandy milk farmers from a specific herd, which includes at least 50% cows native to this part of Normandy, whose milk is 50% higher in butterfat content, as well as free of hormones and antibiotics, according to European law. There is a systematic process and timeline for re-using milk from cows that have been treated with any antibiotics.

Every farmer in the coop shares in 85% of the benefits and profits of the milk production, split equally among the farmers,with the remaining 15% going to support the operating expenses of the coop. Each farmer personally picks up his own milk and checks it for purity before it is sent for cheese making. Milk showing any antibiotics or other impurities is rejected. The coop requirements also include a listing and description of all feed given to the cows, and weekly hygiene audits, which must conform to U.S. import as well as local requirements.

The richness of Normandy milk results in more butterfat and less water thus more “dry matter” in the bries and camemberts it produces, (as high as 60%, vs. as low as 50%) in other types of brie), resulting in more flavor and a meatier consistency to the cheese.

Four types of milk are combined to make Normandie Brie. One is organic, one is raw milk, and two are AOC. AOC, or appellation controlle d’origine is the term used to define and designate products specific to a particular area, and may include requirements as to the source (locale) where the product is made, methods used in the manufacturing (i.e. cave aged, washed, etc), as well as size, shape, weight, etc. For example for a camembert to be AOC, it must be made in Normandy, and not be over 250 grams, among other requirements. AOC can be applied to milk, butter, cheese and other products. For a brie to be AOC, it officially must be made of raw milk and be made in areas east of Paris. Because of U.S. FDA requirements with respect to pasteurization, no brie legally imported to the U.S., can be AOC.

Brie was first imported to the U.S. in 1936. Just as the invention of the rails made it easier to move cheese around Europe, the discovery of the pasteurization process was used by the milk industry to facilitate export of brie to and across the U.S. It is fair to say that the milk and dairy industry is always spearheading technology in the food industry overall. Because of the need to find a stable and safe way to distribute cheese to all parts of the world, pasteurization was refined by the dairy industry because pasteurized milk made it easy to produce a cheese that had a long enough shelf life to be exported by boat, and then transported throughout the U.S., where the demand for brie was growing by mid-century.

However, by bringing in technology, cheese making took several steps away from traditional methods of production, particularly with respect to bries and ripening cheeses. The traditional brie ripens from the outside in, producing variations in consistency throughout the ripening process, as well as more complexity in flavor, which comes from the natural aging of the bacteria. However, the pasteurization processes, which always include heating of the milk, generally destroys not only the “bad” bacteria, but the good bacteria as well, which contribute to ripening and flavor.

The Technology

Normandie Brie technology was developed strictly for the U.S. market in order to achieve the goal of producing a more authentic, yet FDA acceptable brie for general consumption. The research and development of this cheese has been in the works for five years, with the process refined to satisfaction within the past year. The product is a joint venture of World's Best Cheeses and Issigny, one of the top producers of raw milk brie in France. Issigny was founded by Patrick Dupont in 1896, and the current cheese maker is Jacques Brillat, who is responsible for the final recipe used in Normandie Brie.

The milk is pasteurized slowly, using the lactic method, the curds are separated and then starter cultures are added to produce flavor and texture. The size of the curds will also contribute to the texture of the cheese. Then the cheese is formed into its round shape. The shaping is considered the official start of the life of the cheese. From the point of shaping the brie has a life of 90 days. At shaping the brie is labeled with a number from 1-363, beginning from the start of the year. When the brie is purchased, the store or consumer can count from the stamp on the brie to its current date to see how much time is left in the optimum life of the cheese. Note; true, AOC raw milk camembert has a life of only 57 days, thus, U.S. import requirements that unpasteurized, ripening cheeses be aged 60 days before admission to the country are automatically impossible to satisfy.

Once the brie is shaped, it is then dried and salted for 24-48 hours and then an antibiotic is added to produce the fleuring, and the brie is placed for 11-14 days in the “halloir”, or ripening room. Over the aging period the cheese develops its aroma, flavor and fleuring. When it is considered ready it is wrapped and put in its wooden box. It is then cellar aged for an additional 7-14 days.

Because of the gentler pasteurization process, the Normandie Brie will have a somewhat shorter shelf life than that of typical stabilized bries, however, the flavor level and complexity will be significantly greater. Unlike raw milk bries however, this brie will retain enough suppleness and elasticity, that it will still be keep its shape and be suitable for all types of catering and other uses for which the cosmetic aspect of the brie is important.

While the Normandie Brie is not 100% traditional it is currently the most traditional brie available in the U.S. and can be considered similar to a classic Brie de Meaux, or Brie de Melun, but with a somewhat slower ripening life.

How To Taste and Present Brie

The simplest way to taste the flavor of this or any other brie is alone on a cheese plate, or with a plain piece of bread. There are several steps to the tasting process:

When To Eat Brie

Ideally, in France, this, or any cheese is served between the main course and a sweet dessert, typically with any wine left over from dinner. It can also be served as a snack before appetizers. Generally it should be served with a good, rustic, country style bread, or baguette, with no additional flavorings in the bread. Sides can include any non-citrus fruit, such as apples or pears. The best drink to serve is red wine, generally a Bordeaux or a light Burgundy or Rhone, or even Calvados. The best non-alcoholic drink to serve is apple cider.